Having toured internationally, sharing stages with both African and American luminaries including Kojo Antwi, Hugh Masekela and Victor Wooten, Ghana born drummer and composer, Paa Kow, (pronounced Pah-Ko), has recently produced his third studio album entitled Cookpot. The album takes listeners on a journey that boldly explores the music of the African Diaspora by fusing Ghanaian highlife with elements of jazz, funk, and African pop to create his unique Afro-Fusion sound set apart by its “flexibility and finesse” (Modern Ghana).
Growing up in the small village of Enyan Denkyira near Cape Coast in Ghana, West Africa, Paa Kow began to play music and tour with his family’s concert band at a very early age. Dubbed “Ghana’s most artistic drummer” (Modern Ghana), he has since grown to be widely recognized as one of the most remarkable drum set players to tour in Africa, Europe, and America. Paa Kow’s deep groove and prodigious talent reveal a unique ability to speak to listeners with his drums, inspiring a profound spiritual conversation. His songs are captivating and danceable and incorporate lyrics in his native language, Fante, as well as English. Paa Kow’s vision is to spread the music and culture of his homeland by touring the world with his Afro-Fusion orchestra.
Notable musicians he has shared the stage with include African greats: Amakye Dede, George Darko, Kojo Antwi, Nat Brew, Hugh Masekela, and Vusi Mahlasela, as well as American greats Victor Wooten, Brad Goode, John Gunther, Michael Kang, and many more.
In the small Ghanaian village of Enyan Denkyira, where Paa Kow was born, there was no electricity until he was 13 years old. As children, they would often entertain themselves by singing and making music any way they could. Paa Kow fashioned drums out of metal cans, wire, and a fertilizer bag, which he used to practice for hours every day. He even built his own drum pedal using a door hinge, some string, and an old sandal. His mother and uncle were both professional singers and members of a successful touring concert band, which his uncle directed. Using instruments sent from Germany and a generator, the band would tour to other villages without electricity and provide the entertainment for the night.
Paa Kow’s music career officially began when they were rehearsing and he decided to join in on the cowbell. He was barely seven years old at the time and wanted to connect with his elders through music. The whole group could hear and feel a very strong connection as the rhythm came over him. His mom saw him playing and knew right away that he could become a musician. She encouraged him and gave him the opportunity to try and try he did. Within a year Paa Kow was playing congas and drum set with the group. At his first performance on drum set, Paa Kow’s feet could not reach the pedals so he had to stand and play. The audience danced and enjoyed his playing so much so that some even attached paper money to his forehead when they saw that he was working hard and sweating! Looking back on that day, Paa Kow explains that, “Being a musician in Ghana is exciting because it brings everyone closer to you. After the show they gave me gifts to show their appreciation. Right away, I thought that this was perfect and it was then that I knew being a musician was my path in life.”
As he grew, so did his talent. Paa Kow became famous in the region as the “Small-boy Drummer.” Contrary to his parents’ wishes, Paa Kow would at times skip school just to play. On one occasion, when his band mates weren't looking, he hid inside of the bass drum and was packed into the back of the van for a tour. When they got to the first town, the rest of the band was quite surprised to see Paa Kow crawling out the bass drum. Instead of being upset, they were all happy to see him and played the show together. Paa Kow missed school that following Monday, but it was the joy of music that compelled him to play this little trick on his elders. He says, “Music was everything, I wanted and I followed my dreams.”
Paa Kow continued to follow his dreams and ultimately Enyan Denkyira had become too small. At the age of 14, he left and began touring with other notable concert bands in the area. Shortly after, he landed a gig in the town of Winneba with the a government owned dance band called “New Creation.” It was with this band that he travelled to Accra and was discovered by Ghanaian pop star Amakye Dede (pronounced am-achay day-day). Amakye loved Paa Kow’s playing so much that he offered his parents front money to let him move with him to the capital. It was an opportunity of a lifetime so Paa Kow packed his things and travelled to Accra to play with the best musicians of Ghana.
Once again Paa Kow’s exceptional talent was quickly noticed throughout Accra and within a short time he was playing with other well-known musicians including George Darko, Kojo Antwi, and Nat Brew. Playing with these artists gave Paa Kow his first chance to tour outside of Ghana to Switzerland, Scotland, Belgium, Amsterdam, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Togo, Egypt, and Nigeria.
While living in Accra, Paa Kow had a chance meeting with a traveling student from CU Boulder (CO, USA) named, Peyton Shuffield. He was looking for a highlife drummer to study with and, after talking with various Accra musicians, all roads led to Ghana’s best and youngest talent. The friendship was instantaneous and Peyton decided he wanted to help Paa Kow share his talent with the world. So in 2007, with the support of CU professor Dr. Kwasi Ampene, Paa Kow was invited to the University of Colorado as a guest artist and teacher.
Paa Kow’s musical and cultural exchange with musicians in the U.S. gave rise to his Afro-Fusion sound. With his group, Paa Kow put together materials for his debut album "Hand Go Hand Come.” The material was copious which made it difficult to pick favorites and consolidate into one CD. Paa Kow ambitiously decided to make it a double disc. “Hand Go Hand Come” is the English translation of a Ghanaian proverb that embodies the idea of give-and-take. “The right hand washes the left and the left washes the right” translates the inside cover of the CD booklet, informing listeners that Disc 1 and Disc 2 work together as one. They present this early masterpiece of rhythmic precision, talented lyricism, and original fusion of West African Pop with Jazz impressions.
The release of Hand Go Hand Come on April 11th, 2012 was a celebration. Since its release Paa Kow has taken the album on the road touring all over the US. Paa Kow's second studio album, Ask, was released in August of 2014 and he continues to tour across the US and West Africa with his Afro-Fusion orchestra. Cookpot, his third album, will be released in the fall of 2017.